Monday, September 24, 2012

Cab Calloway - "Minnie the Moocher" (1931)

One of the greatest bandleaders of all time, Cabell “Cab” Calloway III was born on Christmas Day 1907 in Rochester, New York. It was a fitting day for him to have been born;  a day when people exchange presents; for with his inimitable style he has left us all the gift of his music.

One of his best known numbers is the rousing “Minnie the Moocher”, which is really a variation on the old “call and response” songs which were popular with African-Americans as far back as the days of slavery, when the music was used to accomplish work in unison. It was also a hallmark of early African-American Christianity. In the rural churches which sprang up in the black community after the Civil War, there was often a shortage of hymnals and prayer books. The preacher would say, or sing, a line from a prayer, or hymn, and the congregation would answer back in kind.

“Minnie the Moocher” is an example of how gospel influences would spill over into popular music, much as it did again later with the advent of rock and roll. The lyrics are said to be based on “Willie the Weeper”, while the melody is based on “St. James Infirmary”, a blues standard of the era.
This version of the song was performed on television in the early 1950’s. There are older, and even better, versions of this song on You Tube, but for some reason blogspot will not accommodate their download. And while you’re googlin’ around, don’t forget to look at “Reefer Man” by Cab Calloway and His Harlem Maniacs. This was one of the best scenes in the 1933 film “International House” with W.C. Fields. Never mind, here it is;

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